Dana Martin was 31, shot and killed in Montgomery, Alabama. Jazzaline Ware was found dead in her apartment in Memphis, Tennessee. Ashanti Carmon was 27, shot and killed in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Claire Legato was 21, fatally shot in Cleveland, Ohio. Muhlaysia Booker was 23 when she was attacked, then shot and killed in Dallas. Michelle “Tamika” Washington was 40 when she was shot and killed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Paris Cameron was 20 when she was shot and killed in Detroit, Michigan; Wayne County prosecutors have called the killing a hate crime. Chynal Lindsey was 26 when she was found in a lake in northeast Dallas. Chanel Scurlock was 23 when she was fatally shot in Lumberton, North Carolina. Zoe Spears was 23 when she was killed in Fairmount Heights, Maryland. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon was 25 when she was found dead in El Paso, Texas, four days after being released from ICE custody. Layleen Polanco was found dead in a cell on Rikers Island at the age of 27. And just this week, Brooklyn Lindsey was found dead in Kansas City, Missouri. She was 32 years old.
These women are not outliers. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the average life expectancy of trans women in the Americas is between 30 and 35 years old. We should be outraged, but we also must be activated.
My organization, the Black Futures Lab, recently conducted the largest survey of the political beliefs, concerns, and aspirations of black communities in America in 154 years. Our survey captured the experiences of more than 30,000 black people from all 50 states. Black people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming were oversampled in our survey, in order to amplify the voices in our communities that are too often silenced.
In general, respondents to our survey identified wages that were too low to support a family as the issue that most often keeps them awake at night. But among respondents who identify as transgender, the biggest concern is violence. Thirty-nine percent of transgender and gender non-conforming Black Census respondents report feeling threatened or harassed once a week or more. Forty-nine percent of trans men, 33 percent of trans women, and 37 percent of gender non-conforming respondents from the Black Census reported experiencing threats or harassment at least weekly. Seventy-five percent of Black Census respondents report that violence against transgender women is a problem in the community, and 54 percent say that it is a serious problem.
Each time the news breaks that yet another trans woman has been found murdered, I think about the uprising at Stonewall 50 years ago, and I know that while some progress has been made, it’s not enough. We need legislative change and cultural change. Representation matters, as does dignity. Trans communities need to be assured their humanity.
There are still widespread, legal, and lethal forms of discrimination aimed directly at the trans community. Because of rampant employment discrimination, many trans people are forced into the underground economy to survive. Trans people are not being murdered by other trans people—they are being murdered by cisgender people, often cisgender men. The legacy of Stonewall should force us to look at this squarely—why can some trans people find success as entertainers, but the vast majority of trans women cannot be assured to live beyond the age of 35?
To make matters worse, changes in the political landscape of this country have ushered in one of the most conservative administrations in recent history. Many federal protections established for the transgender community (and to be clear, there weren’t enough to begin with) during Obama’s presidency have been rolled back in two years by the Trump administration. Under this administration’s leadership, doctors can refuse to provide medical care to trans and gender non-conforming patients. Various agencies will no longer recognize gender identity in policies pertaining to schools and homeless shelters. This rollback is not only an attack on transgender communities; it also increases the likelihood that transgender people will be attacked, because it marginalizes these communities out of existence under the law. Denying rights and protections to trans people creates a culture that announces that trans people do not deserve dignity. Now, instead of looking back at Stonewall and lamenting about how dangerous times were for trans communities, we are forced to acknowledge that times are dangerous right now for trans communities—and may get even worse.
It is the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous uprisings in history, and a presidential election is around the corner. Black trans women are being murdered at astronomical rates, and immigrant Latinx trans women are not far behind. As we celebrate the resistance of queer and trans communities, let us also make our demands known. One way to change the violence directed at trans communities is to exert our democratic power over the institutions that determine the life chances of trans communities—and that means taking control of the decisions being made about us, without us. Being murdered or subject to extreme levels of violence should not be the legacy of trans communities. In 2020, trans communities can help determine the future of the country by voting out of office those who would make it more difficult for their members to live full and dignified lives. Seventy-eight percent of transgender and gender non-conforming Black Census respondents are registered to vote; 63 percent voted in the 2016 presidential elections; and 49 percent attended a protest or demonstration in the last year. Resistance can take many forms, and political action is just one form that can make a difference.
It may just be time for another uprising.